The Faces Behind Hyphen: Harry Mok

August 13, 2010

Who are those hardcore souls who give so much of their MSG-laced sweat and hot sauce-induced tears to Hyphen magazine? This month, as part of Hyphen’s fundraising campaign, you’ll get to know some of these ass-kicking heroines and heroes who aren’t anyone’s sidekicks or comic relief, and who live beyond the final scenes. Way beyond....

At first glance, Harry Mok (Hyphen editor in chief) seems like that guy from whom, as a child, everyone wanted to copy his homework, and about whom, as and adult, people in the office speculate as to what kind of mysterious alter ego lies behind the serious face. He is thoughtful and deliberate, and exactly the kind of person you want to take out for a drink -- both because he’ll be interesting to talk to, and because you want to tease out what's behind that kind, steady persona. So maybe coffee (him) and coffee (me) weren’t the strongest choices, but they did manage to do the trick, nonetheless.

How and when were you first introduced to Hyphen?

I first found out about Hyphen through emails about how somebody was starting a magazine. At the time I was working as a copy editor for the San Francisco Chronicle business section. I sent in my resume, and met with Annie [Koh, one of Hyphen’s founders]. I ended up joining right away for the second issue about food in fall 2003. I grew up on a Chinese vegetable farm, so I wrote a first-person article about my experience for that issue. I became an editor in 2004, then editor in chief (EIC) in 2007. In the beginning, everybody did a little bit of everything, so when I became EIC, I added more structure to the issues and to staffing, in terms of people being responsible for specific sections and areas.

What do you think makes Hyphen so unique?

The magazine was founded on the notion that mainstream media was not covering Asian Americans in a way that provided the full picture. Hyphen highlights Asian American issues, and provides visibility and a media resource for the community.

What kind of impact do you hope it has?

Hopefully some day we wouldn’t have to have a magazine like Hyphen. Seeing an Asian American on television wouldn’t be a big deal -- it would be natural. Like the general status about race.

How have you seen it change over time?

The magazine gets better with each issue, largely because we have kept a core group of volunteers. We’ve also gotten our name out there better with social media. 

What/who have been some of your main influences, in terms of your work at Hyphen?

Hyphen is influenced by the magazines that came before us as inspiration and trailblazers before us. Personally, I’ve been influenced by my experience of growing up as one of about five Asian Americans in my graduating class, which I think allows me to see a more rounded picture of Asian America. Also, by working at great newspapers, seeing good work, and trying to replicate that.

How has your relationship with/perspective of API issues changed over time?

When I was younger and in college, I was angrier with the world as it was -- racism, discrimination, and the lack of Asian American representation in the media. As I mature, I see things from a wider perspective. Things are still screwed up, but I see the little changes more: I see that there is progress.

Do you tend to crave sweet or savory food more?


If you had to choose your last meal on earth, what would it be?

An eight-course Chinese seafood banquet -- to delay the inevitable.

What are you most nostalgic for from your childhood?

That time in my late teens, the short period before college when my group of friends did everything together. After that time, people go their separate ways, and you don’t have that same social network again.

What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?

A vodka martini, straight up, Bond-style.

Did your parents make you go to language school?

No. Maybe because we weren’t close to one. Also, probably because [my siblings and I] were too busy working on the family farm. Then [my parents] wondered why we couldn’t speak Cantonese very well.

What are you listening to now, in terms of music?

I’m totally out of it, in terms of the music scene. I’m stuck in 1997. Probably 1992.

Do you prefer to eat family-style or order individually?

Family-style. It’s always jarring in a group when someone insists on not doing that.

What would your superhero alter ego be?

I can identify with Batman a lot. He’s not perfect; he’s got some issues like everyone else. I like the suit, utility belt, and the car.

Please consider donating to Hyphen to support the work of our hard-working volunteers. You know you'll sleep easier knowing our Batman is doing his night job....